Aitor Karanka ruffled a few feathers with his post-match comments after Middlesbrough’s defeat at Blackburn in midweek, suggesting fans would be happy because he had finally played the 4-4-2 system they had all been calling for. Naturally, the reaction from the Riverside faithful to what seemed like a childish assessment was rather prickly.
However, you can look at his remarks in one of two ways: either Karanka is starting to feel the pressure and is suddenly doubting his ability to finish in the top two, or he was simply misunderstood and the comment - that supporters can be positive about the birth of a new formation - was a genuine one. His next press conference on Thursday was no closer to clearing it up.
So the line-ups, when announced, will go some way towards shaping the mood on Teesside going into this clash. Karanka is keeping his cards close to his chest but there’s no valid reason I can think of why he wouldn’t pitch Jordan Rhodes and David Nugent together against bottom-half opposition like Wolves, a team with brittle confidence and all manner of off-field distractions.
There’s virtually nothing to be gained by reverting to the more conservative 4-2-3-1 when your defensive linchpin (Daniel Ayala) and most experienced midfielder (Grant Leadbitter) are both out injured. Play to your strengths. Select the two guys with 300 league goals between them, both of whom prefer to play in a two. The rest of the team shouldn’t need to be told what their job is.
In truth, Boro created enough chances to take at least a share of the spoils from Ewood Park but they found Blackburn keeper Jason Steele in excellent form on the night. And though the Teessiders aren’t accustomed to scoring goals in any great volume, the conditions might be ideal for them to send out a message of defiance to their automatic promotion rivals here.
In broad terms, Wolves are a fading force, devoid of any ambition while they remain in limbo at executive level. But it’s credit to Kenny Jackett that he can still raise a pulse in response to a particularly abject performance, as he did last week against Derby, which came just a few days after a 3-0 defeat at Brentford, considered to be the nadir of an already regrettable campaign.
However, the Old Gold can contribute here. Jackett has shaken things up with a new 4-1-4-1 system and the positivity generated by last weekend’s televised 2-1 victory over the Rams could stay fresh for another three or four games yet. Wanderers have netted in 13 out of 17 away games this season and they can be enterprising enough to do so at some stage here.
All of which means a bet on over 3.5 goals is recommended. Bet Victor have chalked-up a tasty 18/5 about this outcome, more than half a point bigger than the vast majority of their rivals. Our chances are heavily dependent on Rhodes and Nugent playing the majority of the 90 minutes together. Let’s trust that Karanka doesn’t shy away from the responsibility.
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